It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
That song, right? It picks you up in its waltzing rhythm and you feel either the exhilaration of the Christmas season or something more akin to being swept out to sea.
I feel both at once. Every year I try to identify a reason for feeling overwhelmed at Christmastime, and I can name lots of different ones. Christmas is for children, and I don’t have any, and that makes me feel like a failure. Christmas is for coming together, and large groups of people make me nervous. Christmas sometimes feels like a time when my everyday friends disappear into the cocoons of their own families, while I’m trying to decide which sibling to inflict my sad self on for the holidays. And running through all the reasons for feeling overwhelmed at Christmas, like a long tangly piece of wrong-coloured tinsel, is the shame I feel for not being able to just suck it up and be joyful.
The thing is, I actually love Christmas. I love the smell of a candle just blown out, at any time of year, because it reminds me of that point in the candlelight service when the music of Silent Night is still in your head but it’s time to go home and wait for Santa. I love it when everything is done on Christmas Eve, I’ve done all the wrapping of last-minute presents on behalf of brothers and/or brothers-in-law, and the house is dark except for the tree, and now it’s a roll of the dice to see what scene of It’s a Wonderful Life I’ll catch when I turn on the TV. Charlie Brown’s Christmas is my favourite album; no need to qualify that by saying “Christmas album” because it’s my favourite bar none. I love the idea of hauling out holly, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style. I love the story of shepherds watching their flocks by night and wise men coming from a country far, of an everlasting light shining in our dark streets. I love the idea of God mildly laying his glory by.
Something else about the sadness. I don’t think it’s cynicism that comes with age and disappointment. For one thing, I feel very lucky to have this strange life, even if sometimes I suspect it to be a lack of maturity or some failure to thrive that’s caused it to turn out the way it has. The thing about Christmas sadness is this: I can remember one Christmas Eve when I was about that age where I understood that our parents work as Santa’s helpers, I remember at that age becoming preoccupied with worry about orphans who don’t have parents to help Santa. The sadness was with me long before I had reasons to be sad. I’ve accepted that the Christmas sadness is inevitable. It comes to visit, like that difficult relative, as much a part of Christmas as the turkey and the tree.
Christmas sadness may make the waltz-y swoop of the holidays feel like a tidal wave, but the wonderfulness doesn’t have to be the drowning kind. “Abiding in the field, keeping watch” for me would be sitting in a room lit by candles and tree lights, a modern day kind of silent night. “Go tell it on the mountain” might simply be reaching out to a friend or family member, just checking in to say hi, a quiet way of proclaiming I’m glad you were born. And imagine giving anonymously to someone in need and remembering, “how silently the wondrous gift is given.” Sadness may be inevitable, but wonders never cease.